Tom Hiddleston has commanding presence.
A fabulous example of this is his introduction, in character, of the trailer to Thor: The Dark World at ComicCon. Now Mr. Hiddleston is a talented guy, but I’m sure he would be the first to admit to some serious drama training. Body language (physicality of theater), tone and connection with audience all play a role in having screen presence. The discipline of staying in character in a hall full of raving fans is no trivial pursuit; even Mr. Hiddleston had to ward off a smile now and again. However, that drilled-in discipline of stage acting, of telling a story with body and voice, came through and won the day.
While it seems simply natural, his ability to have such a commanding presence is training and talent using the basics of posture, gesture, enunciation and tone. We see “presence” in the way in which he holds his hands and head, in the fluidity of his gestures, eye contact and well-timed pauses; these all play into the effect. Great lines don’t hurt either. How often do we say things like: “I am burdened with glorious purpose” or ” Your ears yearn for untold stories. Your eyes crave unseen sights. Your imaginations ache and hunger.” (Found in this longer clip.) What a great way to call all to the “glorious purpose” of feasting their eyes on the “unseen sights” of Thor: The Dark World trailer.
Surely we can learn from him those lessons our mothers tried to teach – stand up straight and speak up. Whether it’s in conversation or presentation, we would do well to exercise the discipline and craft of great body language, clear eye contact, paced and enunciated speech and good lines (something substantive to say).
More interesting for writers is how characters, and indeed, books may have a commanding presence. Done right, imagination’s ache finds its salve in story. The very similar disciplines of careful pacing, great descriptive language of movement and the best dialog allow characters to have presence. Great characters woven into great story provide a book with memorable presence. A great cover doesn’t hurt either. Those seemingly simple disciplines of clear descriptive language, well-honed punctuation and narrative pace all conspire to bring a novel to greatness.
A perfect literary example of commanding presence built on a beautifully simple edifice is Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane (about which more here). In mostly simple, clear sentences Mr. Gaiman writes a lyrically haunting tale of a boy and his family pulled into a fantastical world with marvelous neighbors. The characters loom large for us because the language is clear and simple, the story is compelling and beautiful invoked to describe a world reminding us of ours yet, in many ways, utterly foreign.
So when we’re tempted to slouch, in the real or imaginative world, choose rather to command presence.